WASHINGTON — Your kids may finally have to put their phone down after a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to set age restrictions on social media.
The lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday that bans children younger than 13 from using social media platforms and requires parental consent for those between the ages of 13 and 17.
The move is among the first major bipartisan effort in Congress to restrict platforms for children and comes after lawmakers have recently pushed to make online platforms safer for children, including efforts to ban TikTok and regulate Instagram.
However, parents told USA TODAY they are skeptical of the legislation and whether it would be effective in addressing the rapidly emerging concerns over minors’ use of social media.
“I appreciate a bipartisan effort around this. And I do think it’s important to start building coalitions,” said Samuel Chapman, a 58-year-old California parent whose 16-year-old son died from fentanyl-laced drugs purchased through Snapchat in 2021. “I just don’t see it as the solution.”
Most social media companies already prohibit users under 13 because of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, otherwise known as COPPA. However, it's not strictly enforced.
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Chapman and his wife, OWN TV host Dr. Laura Berman, have been large proponents of social media legislation following the death of their son, including advocating for parental monitoring technology on such applications.
Chapman and Berman have advocated for Sammy’s Law – legislation named for their son – which would require major social media companies to allow parents to track their children through third-party monitoring software.
“I’m all for parental permission. I don’t know if codifying will make it happen because everything that’s been put in place by these platforms and by our legislators thus far any 12-year-old has been able to get around,” Chapman added.
Chris Kunkle, whose children are 10, 15 and 17, voiced similar concerns while also taking issue with lawmakers’ reasoning for the legislation.
“I think they’re using social media as a scapegoat. The mental health crisis – there's a lot of factors that go into it,” Kunkle said.
“Yes, social media has shone a light on that for some of these kids, but I don’t think just blocking or making social media more difficult for children is really going to have any effect on the problem with mental health that we have," the 39-year-old father of three added.
Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Katie Britt, R-Ala, introduced the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act aimed to protect children from the harmful effects of social media, emphasizing its impact on mental health.
The senators laid blame directly on social media for the growing mental health crisis, noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2021 Youth Risk Behavior found poor mental health and suicidal thoughts and behaviors increased across nearly all groups of youth.
“For too long big tech has exposed our kids to dangerous content and disturbed people. Moms and Dads have felt helpless while their kids suffered, sometimes leading to devastating tragedies,” Cotton said during the press conference introducing the legislation.
“This bill is a giant step towards fixing that problem. It puts parents back in control and sends an important message: Social media companies have a duty to help keep kids safe and parents informed or face serious consequences,” he added.
In addition to restricting children under 13 from social media and requiring parental consent for those between the ages of 13 and 17, the proposed legislation, according to the bill text, also includes:
- Restricting social media companies from using algorithms to recommend content to minors.
- Requiring platforms to use “rigorous” age verification measures but prohibiting social media companies from using the information for other purposes.
- The creation of a pilot program for a government-established age verification system companies can choose to use.
- Providing the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general the authority to enforce the measures of the proposed legislation.
“By instituting these simple, straight forward guidelines we’ll be able to give the next generation of children what every parent wants for their child, which is a chance to grow up happy and healthy,” Schatz said Wednesday.
The legislation is not the first targeting children who use social media platforms.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced a bill in February – the Making Age-Verification Technology Uniform, Robust, and Effective (MATURE) Act – to require social media platforms to verify that users are at least 16 years old before allowing them onto the platform.
Under Hawley’s bill, individuals would have to provide the platform with their full legal name, date of birth and a scan, image or upload of a form of government-issued identification, which would verify a user’s name and birthday
Hawley also introduced the Federal Social Media Act, a bill that would commission a report to study the impact of social media on users’ mental and physical health of those under the age of 18.
The Missouri lawmaker also led the effort to fast-track a national TikTok ban, before being blocked by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who said such a ban would violate the First Amendment.
Contributing: Rachel Looker